The Dean of LSM, Prof. Per Joakim Agrell, meets us on a sunny day in Louvain-la-Neuve outside the LSM building, as he is just coming in from his home in Brussels.
What do you retain from the year 2019/2020 for LSM?
The year has been incredible in all sense of the word: we began the year by gaining a full 5-year accreditation in EQUIS, a goal we have strived for since 2006, we ended the year as a fully digital management school with distance teaching and examination for all courses. In both these projects, we surpassed the external expectations by believing in our ability to accomplish these goals with our values. I am also proud to note the strong cohesion and trust that reigns in LSM, our theme “teaming up with the students” was immediately put to the test.
How did the student live this period?
For EQUIS, the students provided open and fair feedback on the School to the auditors. In their final assessment, the EQUIS auditors acknowledged the dedication of LSM Alumni towards their alma mater and the “excellent connections of students with practice and students’ awareness and appreciation for ERS education” for with we were ranked above standard.
In the COVID-19 crisis, the School immediately communicated its commitment to maintain the teaching, to find good solutions for the internships and masters theses and to inform about the exchanges next year. True to our values, we also pledged our trust in the students by changing the final exams to online, take-home exams and projects. Where others suspected this to lead to widespread cheating and collapse, I am happy to note that the students validated the two exam sessions with good but not unusual results, many excellent Master’s theses were presented.
Nevertheless, some students lived this period as a stressful episode, marked by great uncertainty and social isolation. We are aware of this and the entire UCLouvain with LSM is mobilized to make this academic year different.
The COVID-19 virus is still here, how will you change the teaching in 2020/2021?
We are preparing a year in a hybrid model where the face-to-face teaching will be clearly present in all classes, depending on their size and pedagogical goals, in full compliance with the sanitary regulations. We will not adopt a single model on all classes, but the professors have carefully revised their curriculum to make each mode of teaching, face-to-face and distance, valuable and effective. For some courses and sites, like Mons, almost all classes will be given face-to-face. This semester, we will see each other again, students and faculty. We missed our students – and they missed us!
Of course, there will also be changes: some international exchanges have been postponed to Spring, others have chosen new destinations or a year of courses in LLN. In all these cases, we work closely with the students to find good solutions that bring them a safe and exciting year.
LSM has always been at the forefront in terms of awareness and teaching in CSR (corporate and social responsibility) in the line of Professor Philippe De Woot, such as the Louvain CSR network, the Philippe De Woot Award and the major in corporate sustainable management.
The ongoing pandemic and the looming economic crisis inspire many to join LSM in thinking about the long-term perspective and the human as part of the solution. Just as we cannot solve the sanitary problem by simply hiding at home, we cannot continue supporting activities that no longer make sense just to restore the revolved past. We need to fundamentally evolve to economically, ethically and environmentally sustainable solutions that lead to a durable balance between goals.
Our role is to change the perception that sustainability is a ‘nice-to-have’ that is costly to the society. This is just wrong. Sustainability is the only way to ensure economic profitability, employee commitment and social acceptance. Many of the problems occurring during the crisis in terms of availability, service, safety and information can actually be solved using existing tools when applied correctly and when we at last see the value of things.
Although we have a leading position in this dimension, we are now investing to become even better. By working with our advisory council, alumni and our CSR partners in Belgium and abroad, we will enhance our teaching, projects and methods to become even more effective.
What difference can an LSM student make in terms of sustainability?
A world! Sustainability is not a set of slogans to whitewash what firms do anyway, it is a structured and systematic analysis to explore the impacts of business decisions, to explore new models and to be innovative and collaborative. All of this represent extremely valuable skills and attitudes that you need to be strong to carry in conservative and passive organizations. We prepare our students to be the beacons of sustainability and together with them, we will transform the Belgian economy!
Do you mean that the School will change as well?
Yes, of course. Just look at the teaching modes that we put into place this semester: rather than running a simple distance-teaching model with podcasts, streaming and online courses like many others, we see the long-term need to maintain and cherish the human contact in university education. Proximity and interchange have never been more important than when they are scarce! However, we need to reinvent and find safe modes to accomplish this, not just reproducing a ready-made model.
We also need to develop in terms of internal sustainability, in the way our students and personnel devote their time and interact: urgency does not mean that you can ignore our human long-term capacity.
That sounds ambitious: what do you do personally to improve your sustainability?
Well, we all have to find individual solutions starting where we are. My family reduced drastically our commuting, doing shopping by bike and changed from a diesel to an electrical car. We live close to stores and parks, it was just a matter of changing mindset and habits. As many others we found our house and basement full of items that were no longer used, we cleared out an amazing volume to give away and recycle. Since then, my wife also starting buying and selling used clothes on a website. Finally, to be able to keep my personal sanity and health with my professional stress, I have installed a steady habit to run in the Forêt de Soignes or the parks four times a week, sometimes with my sons. Nobody is perfect, but it feels great to move in the right direction.